How do you make managing one city interesting without making managing a dozen cities overwhelming? This dilemma is not unique to Civilization, the entire 4x genre has struggled with it. In a genre about starting small and growing large the quantity of decisions to make naturally grows. This can easily become overwhelming, but there are techniques designers can use to manage this tension. These techniques must be applied carefully because each has its own limitation and pitfalls.
Over the years I’ve released and refined mods for Civilization 5 (and its expansions), Beyond Earth, Rising Tide and most recently Civilization 6. Each project has taught me something new and given me a lesson I’ve carried forward and applied to the proceeding projects. These lessons influence the design, scope and schedule of my current and future projects.
In this article I will do a deep dive into the strategic trade offs created by Specialists in Civilization 4, 5, Beyond Earth and the Rising Tide mod Echoes of Earth. While Specialists themselves may appear to be relatively similar across the games, other mechanics shifting around them have a decisive impact on the role of Specialists. Understanding the evolution of Specialists underlines how game design requires a holistic perspective.
In Civilization 5 it is called Gold. In Endless Legend it called Dust. And in Beyond Earth it is called Energy. The role is similar across all three games and it is reasonable to think of it as a simple palette swap but Beyond Earth makes some missteps that Civilization 5 avoided.